Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: India unshaken, unstirred without Bond

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As Andy Moles was prematurely celebrating some kind of victory that the rest of us were struggling to see, the Indians were busy blowing out the Black Cap coach's candles and turning the saving of a test match into what can only be described as a cakewalk.

"We've had an excellent test match ... there is a lot of confidence in our dressing room," Moles claimed before the final day at Napier, a day in which the only minor threat to the Indian's rescue mission turned out to be dodgy umpiring.

Heaven knows what Moles would rate as a bad test match, and we can only all hope that it is an occasion which never arrives.

In a new age of vibrant test cricket, the Napier clash was as retro as the city's famous buildings and the Black Caps never came close to victory.

Moles might have been jumping out of his skin in delight, but this test turned into a yawn-fest and one in which the tourists publicly revelled in draining the home side's third test chances by making them sweat for hour upon hour in the field.

It was viewing only made acceptable by the excellence, skill and knowledge of the television commentary team.

They are a loose and quirky lot - Ian Smith, Simon Doull, Martin Crowe and co - but in the main they combine into a masterful and entertaining squad, with no fear of giving sharp and well-reasoned criticism, and are by far the best in the New Zealand television sports business.

Cricket has always lent itself to great radio and TV commentary, and it had to be good in Napier.

The only respite at times were views of the gorgeous blue coastal water, a substance that seemed in short supply when it came to growing grass on the pitch.

Yet flat deck or no flat deck, New Zealand's bowling was found wanting. If only New Zealand's cricket leaders could save their hot air for something useful, like offering our ace of pace Shane Bond the apology he deserves with a heartfelt invitation to take up the cudgels once more for the national side.

New Zealand's batting was stupendous in this test, yet aided by a deck as flat as the celebrations should have been. The question New Zealand Cricket needs to ask itself is how it can better control the condition of test wickets in future. This is no incidental business. The state of those precious 22 yards is paramount to the state of the game. The Napier tarmac should never be seen again.

The image you get is that groundsmen are cranky blokes sitting on tractors which they start up with a roar every time anybody approaches seeking an influence over their domains. They face a tough job in New Zealand, in multi-purpose arenas, but this cannot be used as an unchallenged excuse.

The desperate cause of test cricket in this country was let down by the Napier wicket, which resembled surfaces that Indian batters are made on and even New Zealanders can bat for hours on.

Yet even the conditions did not excuse the second innings flatness of the New Zealand attack, and to find a coach in such an ebullient mood before the final day's play made you wonder just how desperate New Zealand were, and whether they had thought their work was already done.

Had this been Australia in the same position, Ricky Ponting's men would not have dared squirt the scent of a hollow victory in the air with a day of battle to go.

The plain fact is that New Zealand's bowling attack is being led by men who are, by world test standards, essentially back-up bowlers and in this you can include the overrated captain Daniel Vettori. Now and then, they have a good day.

If New Zealand were serious about trying to beat the Indians in Wellington (and previously for that matter), they would have torn up whatever rule book they are being forced to operate by, got out the chequebook, and moved heaven and earth to sign Bond up for at least one last 150km/h fling of the red leather.

This would have to be preceded by the necessary and overdue NZC apology, for steering Bond one way over his decision to join a so-called rebel Indian Twenty20 league then dropping him with the ease in which Iain O'Brien and Chris Martin have put down chances in this test series.

After being dudded by the national administration and the factions of Indian cricket that are recklessly influencing far too much in world cricket, our very own agent of destruction reckoned he only had a future in one day international cricket anyway. And late last year, if I understand the reports correctly, Bond said he would never play for his country again because of his anger over the treatment. But rules are made to be broken, and men are there to be persuaded.

Our bowling attack has been left up a creek since we lost "Paddles", the great Sir Richard Hadlee, and Bond succumbed to injury and insult. What a great sight it would have been to see Bond steaming in towards a Basin Reserve greentop, ready to wipe the smiles of the Indian faces.

And if they threatened to quit the tour because of the presence of a "rebel", then let them pack their commercially inspired sad and their suitcases, and to hell with the consequences.

Bring Back Bondy should have been the call and we could then have seen what the Indians and their interfering administration are made of. Bond should have been told that his country desperately needs him then offered a profuse apology for the most disgraceful backflip that has ever been visited on a national sporting star, then fitted up in whites as the Indians turned a little pale. The fans should be relieved of the sins of the administrators, and Bond might have responded to that.

Without Bond, get ready for another Indian lesson in test cricket.

Despite Moles' inference to the contrary, this magnificent Indian batting team doesn't fear our bowling lineup and nor should they.

The tourists are stacked with greats of all styles, who are facing an attack that has two honest and capable seamers in Martin and O'Brien but an absence of consistent world beating class.

Even Vettori is a hit-and-miss test proposition and New Zealand cricket continues to ignore the lessons of its own past, relying on journeyman finger spinners.

We've had some decent test bowlers of late, men like Martin and O'Brien, but only a single potentially great one who could be mentioned, if quietly, in the same breath as Hadlee.

Forget about Moles and his moral victories. Until we get another Hadlee or Bond, or encourage the development of a spinner who can take hundreds of wickets under the 30 runs per wicket mark, test wins against good sides will be few and far between.

And we'll judge our victories via the scorebook thanks, and not by how cocky the lads are feeling in the dressing room.

* Tiger Woods is back from a long injury layoff, involving a knee reconstruction, and playing as if he was never away. The way he drained a putt to clinch victory in the Arnold Palmer tournament was vintage Woods. Normal transmission has resumed - ratings will be up and the major prospects of the other leading golfers will be down. I won't profess to being a great fan of Woods' boorish personality, but there's no doubt about it - golf just isn't the same when he's away.

* The NRL must review its new rules governing the protection of kickers. It's fair enough to penalise players for hitting kickers when they are in the air. But penalising chasers for making any kind of contact on a kicker when he is still on the ground, and in the process of making a kick, is ludicrous. And that's what has happened on a couple of occasions this year.

* Manly are paying for their player behaviour problems in the most savage way. The champions have lost their focus and star fullback for now, and are winless after three NRL rounds. They tried to throw million-dollar passes in the wet against Penrith, and ended up broke. Considering their grand final victory over Melbourne last year, it is an astonishing fall from grace.

* "Let me say very clearly I do not vote," the IOC president Jacques Rogge told the media, when asked about the chances of rugby being one of two new sports at the Olympic Games in 2016. Who does Rogge think he is kidding? Rest assured Rogge will still wield plenty of influence on this issue and any issue, vote or no vote. And so he should. By his stated criteria, rugby - which was an Olympic sport on a very minor level many years ago - must have a great chance of being admitted. The key factors are entertainment and widespread appeal. The opponents are golf, squash, karate, roller sports, softball and baseball. It's not exactly a fascinating lineup. I reckon the IOC will go for sevens rugby and golf (on the Tiger factor). The outsider - squash. Does anybody find squash entertaining?

* The rugby powers are due to sort out the experimental laws this week, with the pundits predicting they will throw them out. The Northern Hemisphere, led by its rugby press, have vehemently opposed the new laws. And I'd have to say that I'm largely with them there, cautiously, although far from convinced. Sometimes I wonder if rugby was ever meant to be a game viewed in large doses. It was at its best a rare treat, of trench battles that were elevated by the rarity and importance of the occasion. The ELVs have added a lot of action to the game, most of it utterly meaningless. Under the ELVs, rugby has lost its shape. Whichever way the IRB goes, it must make a definitive move and the rugby nations would be wise to back them to the hilt whether they feel they have won or lost. The game needs certainty over how it is to be played, not continual experimentation and debate.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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